You might have heard about budget deficits in your country or the fiscal cliff hype in the USA more recently. These are serious issues that countries are facing. Beneath the surface though, there is an even more worrying deficit: Baby deficits. That’s right, nations are experiencing such huge demographic declines that most experts and economists now worry not about the long-standing Malthusian ghosts of overpopulation, but about demographic decline.
A former Taiwanese minister of health was recently speaking in New York about his country’s spectacular economic development, sometimes referred to as an ‘economic miracle,’ and when he was asked about today’s challenges for his country, his reply was simple: ‘Population decline has been declared a matter of national security in our country.’
And the problem is not only for developed countries. A recent UNFPA report about ageing noted:
‘Rapidly and surely the world is getting older. In 2000, for the first time in history, there were more people over age 60 than children below age 5. The number and proportion of older persons is growing faster than any other age group, and will surpass 1 billion people in less than 10 years. Ageing is now occurring fastest in the developing world, which has limited resources and plans to deal with this unprecedented demographic trend.’
For some countries, the problem indeed seems like a national security problem. Take Japan for instance. A recent article in the New York Times put it this way:
‘Nowhere is the rapid aging of Japan more visible than in rural towns like Nanmoku, where 56 percent of local residents are over 65. Over the next 25 years, the proportion of Japan’s population that is elderly will rise from almost one in four to one in three. Sales of adult diapers will soon surpass those of baby diapers.’
The United States, long regarded as a shining light in the developed countries’ rapidly declining birth rates, is no longer immune from imminent baby shortages.
A recent report, Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds, from the National Intelligence Council, which tracks major global trends, emphasized global ageing among its ‘megatrends’ for the next two decades and reckoned:
‘Aging countries will face an uphill battle in maintaining their living standards. Demand for both skilled and unskilled labor will spur global migration. Owing to rapid urbanization in the developing world, the volume of urban construction for housing, office space, and transport services over the next 40 years could roughly equal the entire volume of such construction to date in world history.’
The report added:
‘The demographic arc of instability will narrow. Economic growth might decline in “aging” countries. Sixty percent of the world’s population will live in urbanized areas; migration will increase.’
Gone are the days of Malthusian ghosts! As Philip Longman puts it in a recent essay on global ageing in Foreign Policy Magazine, the world faces a population bomb, not of too many people but of too few babies.
Obadias Ndaba is President of World Youth Alliance.